Adventures in Plumbing

We rarely go into the basement.

One of the things that can be said about a 150+ year old house is that there is often little reason to want to spend time in the basement. We are fortunate in that it has relatively high ceilings for a structure of this age, and that a prior generation was kind enough to lay down cement over the original dirt floor. Despite these facts, it's not an inviting place. It's damp, dirty, and mostly empty, except for the utilities.

It was a fluke that I went down there. We'd looked everywhere else for a particular dog coat, and I ventured down the very steep steps to see if, perhaps, it had been left down there last winter.

I found the coat.

I also found a huge mess.

There was a stream of water running from the southeast corner of the basement towards the drain on the north-central end. That stream was being fed from a spray coming out of the pipe that exits the pressure tank. Prior to this I had been wondering how I would spend my Sunday off.

Now I had my answer.

This is not a welcome sight... 

This is not a welcome sight... 

It is amazing how much water a tiny little spray can generate

It is amazing how much water a tiny little spray can generate

As with most rural homes, we are on a well. The well feeds into a pressure tank, which in turn provides water to the rest of the home. The well is, of course, under ground, and the water enters into the house in the basement. Since water doesn't especially enjoy going uphill, the pressure tank's job is to encourage it to do so, ensuring that one's daily shower is a successful affair instead of an exercise in disappointment.

Most of the water piping in the house is copper. However, the segment of pipe entering, as well as the segment exiting the pressure tank is galvanized steel instead. Galvanized steel eventually gave way to copper in most applications, but hybrid systems like ours - a legacy to the age of the home - are not unusual in homes of this age. Galvanization allows the piping to last considerably longer than untreated steel would, but it does eventually rust and rot away.

In this case, it had rusted sufficiently to result in a hole a few millimeters across, just above a T junction, and it was spraying across the floor. As a bonus the spray was almost perfectly aligned with the side of the dehumidifier. We have the dehumidifier set up with a hose so it runs continually, but the spray had managed to fill the device's bucket, so it was not running either - the water had free reign over the basement.

I have the unusual good fortune to have been raised in a family of plumbing/heating and cooling experts at Triple Service in Mendota, IL. I spent many a summer - often against my will - serving as gopher and ditch digger to men very skilled in the black art of plumbing. In that time I did manage to learn a thing or two (thanks Dad!).

A thing or two. To be clear, whenever I would make mention of anything suggesting I might be considering going into the family business my Dad would look thoughtful for a moment - I believe he was thinking back to the quality and speed of my plumbing work to date - and say "yeah - you ought to go to college".

(Thanks again, Dad!)

Fortunately, this repair was within my less than artisanal-level skill set (with tech support from my Dad and brother). It involved only off-the shelf parts, and Stephenitch Do It Best Hardware in town had everything I needed. It did take me the better part of four hours to complete - I had to drive out to get the parts and move the water softener to get the pipes apart (and the whole time I'm painfully aware that my Dad and my brother could likely have done the whole job inside of an hour), but it all came together just fine.

It all makes me reflect - as I have many times in my adult life - upon just how valuable that time working as a plumber's helper truly was. I did go to college, and in fact ultimately spent a ridiculous amount of time there. Much to the dismay of my former teenage self my Dad proved to be right on this, as on so many other things.

And he clearly also knew that, no matter what you do in life, having some skills surrounding maintaining and repairing your home will always be valuable. My hands aren't plumbers hands - I have learned that I have to wear leather gloves every time I tackle a project like this for that very reason - but I can still handle projects like this, and that is an incredible bonus.

This event - and a part of our adventure with our extremely windy day on Valentine's 2015 - also illustrates a more practical concern. We are a small family, and this is a very big house. As such, there are areas that we rarely go into. Given the age of the house, this presents the very real risk of something failing and it being some time before we detect it. Clearly, we need to simply plan to check the "uncommon areas" periodically to make sure everything is okay.

Complete and leak-free. And yes, I did wipe off the excess pipe dope after I took the picture.  

Complete and leak-free. And yes, I did wipe off the excess pipe dope after I took the picture.